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A guide to choosing a home boarder or a house sitter for your dog when on holiday

So, with summer just around the corner it’s the time of year when we get inundated with enquiries regarding home boarding and housesitting. There are posts on Facebook everyday asking for recommendations for people and businesses that offer these services. But just how do you know what to look for? How do you ensure that you pick the right person and things don’t end in tears? Choosing the right pet care provider is difficult and if you are anything like me you can probably fit all the people you trust to take care of your pets on the head of a pin. So, first things first what’s the difference between a house sitter and a home boarding business.

House sitting.

This is where an individual comes and stays in your home with your pets. When I started Hounds & Hooves in 2013 this wasn’t a hugely popular service. People felt nervous about having other people in their homes with their pets. But over the years its gained traction and now more than ever people are choosing housesitting. House sitting is a very personal service and one that is built on trust. House sitters will only take on one job at a time and for the most part are with your pets for 24hrs, having said that some will require that the dogs are comfortable to be left alone for up to four hours this is so they can run errands like shopping. Because of the uniquely, bespoke personal service it is often more expensive than home boarding but then you are paying for your home’s security and a much more-such as ensuring plants are watered, rubbish is taken out, curtains are opened and closed. When it comes to your pet it’s a much more 1-1 experience for them. Their routine and environment stay the same and its much less disruptive than a home boarding situation where there are potentially going to be multiple dogs staying at one time. This set up is ideal for those that have dogs that are not sociable, elderly or infirm. Dogs that require a more tailored service.

Home boarding

This is where your dog goes and stays in another home more often than not with other dogs.

This is a really great service if you have a sociable, relaxed and well-balanced dog that thrives in a group situation. Dogs are treated as one of the family so find out if there are any other resident dogs. As home boarders are mainly individual businesses running from their home there is lots of variation in the type of services they provide. Some boarders offer one to one care, others mix dogs from different households, so your dog can socialise with others, some specifically cater to different sizes, breeds or exercise levels. It means you can often find just the right person to suit your dog’s needs.

In order to run a home boarding business, you need to be licensed by your local council. A licensing officer will assess your suitability and then award a license or not. In the license there will be certain stipulations such as how many dogs they are able to take at one time, if they are allowed to take puppies or unneutered males. This differs from council to council. Operating without a license is illegal and business can be fined and shut down. We are going to go in to greater detail further down the article.

Licence & Insurance

Just like catteries and kennels, dog home boarders are required to have a licence from their local council. It's important you check the service you are planning to book with is licensed (you can ask to see their certificate or contact the council to confirm it). The licence sets out the terms home boarders must operate under, such as limiting the number of dogs they can care for and setting standards for safety and cleanliness. Councils inspect home boarders’ facilities before issuing a licence. License holders will either have their license on display or stored at home somewhere. Either way it should be at their home and if you ask to see it they should show it to you.

In addition to a licence, boarding services should also have Public Liability Insurance, which provides cover if your dog injures a third party or damages their property whilst in the boarder’s care, and Care, Custody & Control Insurance, which provides cover if your dog has an accident or becomes unwell in the boarder’s care. Check that they have insurance! This may seem like a given but there are many businesses that don’t have it. Both house sitters and home boarders need insurance. Again, they should be able to show you the documents when asked.

How do you know which service is right for you?

Ultimately it comes down to personal preference. However, there are some things that may restrict your dog from being able to stay with a home boarder for both legal and practical reasons.

  • Entire Dogs - Home boarders cannot accommodate unneutered dogs of opposite sex, so some home boarders refuse unneutered dogs completely or bitches in season depending on resident dogs and other boarders.
  • Puppies - The standard licence conditions set by local council’s state puppies under six months should not be boarded with other dogs, including resident dogs. This limits the number of home boarders that can accept puppies.
  • House Training - Being house trained is usually a condition of boarding as dogs live inside on floors that may not be as easy to clean as kennel flooring. This condition can affect young puppies as well as older dogs that are incontinent.
  • Aggression - Dogs that are aggressive towards people are not generally suitable for home boarding; if your dog is dog aggressive this will limit the home boarders that will accept it, but some are willing to accommodate this if they only board one dog at a time and don't have a resident dog. Always be honest with a potential boarder about any behaviour issues your dog may have.
  • Breed - Home boarders are not allowed to board dogs on the dangerous dogs register or wolf hybrids. Individual home boarders may have size limits, such as only accepting small dogs based on their facilities or resident dog.

What to look out for.

Firstly, any reputable or long-standing home boarder or house sitter will be booked up MONTHS maybe even years in advance. Once you find the right person for your pets you won’t want to use anybody else. So, plan ahead. If you’ve already booked your holiday/wedding/family day trip for next year sort out pet care now. Leaving it till the week before you go on holiday well most likely result in a very stressful search to find someone and often people have to take a leap of faith rather than building a relationship with their chosen service provider beforehand.

Expect to pay a non-refundable deposit to secure your place and if you are not prepared to pay that don’t be upset if your place is given to another client. For home boarders and house sitters school holidays are like gold dust and you can bet your bottom dollar that if you hang around deciding that by the time you do decide the place will have been filled and you will be back to square one.

Some home boarders now charge a damage deposit. Sadly, not everyone is always upfront about training and behaviour issues.

Both choices have come on a lot over the years many home boarders are now providing hotel like facilities and house sitters are now able to offer stay and train services meaning your dog gets trained while you are away-Of course do you research behind their training methods but its is obviously now a far cry from just turning up and keeping your dog company.

What questions should you ask?

Ask what happens if they go out? Where do the dogs go? How long do they go out for? Some businesses will leave the dogs alone others won’t. Find out what suits your dog.

Ask how they deal with undesirable behaviour? If they start talking about rolled up newspapers or pet corrector spray or any other aversive equipment, then run a mile.

A reputable individual will want to do an initial consultation. Either in your home if you are wanting a house sitter or at their home if you are home boarding. If you are happy at the consultation, ask to do a trial. Dogs, just like people won’t feel comfortable with everyone. We are dog lovers ourselves and we want your dogs to feel happy and relaxed with us while you are away.

Ask if they have any extra qualifications, canine first aid, knowledge of canine body language, etc what experience they have, how long have they been running?

Don’t be put off by price. Just because someone is cheap or expensive doesn’t mean they are good/bad. Go and see for yourself, do your research, what does your dog tell you when they meet the house sitters/home boarders?

Ask what kind of communication if any you will receive whilst you are away. We send our clients daily pupdates including pictures of that day’s adventures.

Ask how much exercise your dog is going to get. Is the business able to adapt to your dog’s needs?

What are the night time arrangements? Where will your dog sleep?

What are the travel arrangements? If your dog is going to be transported to walks via a vehicle, ask to see the vehicle and check that your dog is going to be appropriately restrained.

Lastly, go with your gut. You and your dog will pick up quickly if something is amiss. If it doesn’t feel right. Look elsewhere.

Final thoughts.

Please remember to be upfront regarding training and behaviour issues. Homeboarders run they business from their homes. When all the dogs are gone they still live there. Cleaning is part of the job, but it makes the job really hard when clients are not transparent about the fact that their dog marks everything and everywhere, or that the small separation issues you mentioned are actually a completely terrified dog that cannot be left alone even for a short period. If you are transparent they may be able to offer an alternative solution. Although we no longer offer home boarding or housesitting services, providing good quality, ethics based, welfare first services is something I am hugely passionate about. Sadly, the dog industry as a whole is largely unregulated. Even though the change to licensing came in there are still people operating without licenses.